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Lachlan Macquarie (1762–1824)

by N. D. McLachlan

This article was published:

Lachlan Macquarie (1762-1824), governor, was born, according to a note in his own hand in a family Bible, on 31 January 1762 on the island of Ulva in the parish of Kilninian in the Inner Hebrides, Scotland. His father, Lachlan Macquarie, was a cousin of the sixteenth and last chieftain of the clan Macquarie. According to local tradition Macquarie senior was a carpenter or miller; certainly he was a tenant of the Duke of Argyll, leasing the small farm of Oskamull in Mull which he was too poor to stock himself and therefore shared with two other tenants. His own part of the farm he shared with his son-in-law, Farquhar Maclaine, a tradesman. It is not known when he died, but in August 1785 Macquarie paid a mariner a pound to buy a headstone for his grave.

Macquarie's mother, Margaret, was the only sister of Murdoch Maclaine, chieftain of Lochbuy in Mull, and as a widow she farmed her pendicle of Oskamull, with her eldest son Donald and Farquhar Maclaine, until her death in 1810 at 82. Two letters from her exist, but it is doubtful whether she was literate; in 1803 when Macquarie wrote to her at her request, he asked his uncle, his normal correspondent, 'to cause some proper Person to read to her'. Of Macquarie's older brothers, Hector was a lieutenant in the New York Volunteer Regiment and died while prisoner of the American rebels in 1778; Donald who was described as possessing an 'infirm imbecile state of mind' died in 1801 at 50. Following his father's death Macquarie and his younger brother Charles, who died on 27 March 1835, came under the affectionate care of Murdoch Maclaine.

Whether Macquarie attended the Royal High School, Edinburgh, as tradition has it, is doubtful. What is certain is that in 1776 he volunteered and on 9 April 1777 obtained an ensigncy in the second battalion of the 84th Regiment, known as the Royal Highland Emigrants, commanded by a cousin, Colonel (later General) Allan Maclean. Murdoch Maclaine served as captain in the same battalion. Macquarie was posted first to Nova Scotia, where he landed on 31 October 1776, and then to New York and Charleston, but only on garrison duty. He was commissioned a lieutenant in the 71st Regiment on 18 January 1781. From Charleston Macquarie was posted to Jamaica and there made up his mind to try his fortune in the East Indies. Returning to Scotland in 1784 he was retired on half-pay when his regiment was disbanded. Three years later, through the patronage of Maclean, he was offered the senior lieutenancy in the 77th Regiment which was being raised for service in India, on condition that he found fifteen recruits for the colonel's company. On 28 March 1788, after several months of strenuous recruiting in Scotland, he marched from Dover Castle to Deal with the first division and embarked in the Dublin for Bombay. Macquarie was then 26. He had ten guineas in his pocket and left behind debts to his uncle and tradesmen.

Macquarie arrived at Bombay early in August and despite his gloom about prospects of promotion he fulfilled Maclean's prediction that he would get 'a step' within three months. On 9 November 1788 he was appointed a captain-lieutenant and considered himself 'a very lucky fellow'. Early in 1790 war with Tippoo Sahib seemed unavoidable and Macquarie was itching for battle, only praying that the war would last at least three years: 'in which time I think I shall be rather unlucky if I do not get a Company and make a few Hundred Pounds to assist my friends with'.

Three years later Macquarie was appointed major of brigade. By then he had not only paid off his debts but saved £1000 and sent home money to his family. Even more important, he was now in a position to propose to a West Indian heiress, Jane, youngest daughter of the late Thomas Jarvis, former chief justice of Antigua. She was living in Bombay with her sister and brother-in-law, James Morley, a wealthy, retired servant of the East India Co., and to Macquarie's joy ('Oh delightful glorious and generous girl!') accepted him.

They were married on 8 September 1793 in Morley's house, but the polite society in which Macquarie now moved proved expensive, and since the marriage settlement could not be touched he was soon in debt again. He was therefore relieved when his regiment was ordered to Calicut. In a bungalow there, which he named Staffa Lodge, Macquarie and his bride lived quietly but in content. He had paid off his debts by the time he saw further action, this time against the Dutch, taking part in the siege of Cochin (1795) and the capture of Colombo and Point de Galle (1796). There he stayed for nearly a month as governor, but hearing that his wife was unwell he obtained leave and hurried back to Calicut to find her in the last stage of consumption. Hoping desperately that sea air would help, Macquarie took her on a trip to Macao, but she died there on 15 July 1796 in her twenty-fourth year. Macquarie's profound grief was touchingly if verbosely expressed in the inscription on the ornate, black marble tombstone he raised over her grave in the Bombay burying ground, and in numerous letters home. A letter by Jane, written to her mother-in-law to inform her of their marriage, suggests, as does the miniature portrait, a young woman of charm, sweetness and simplicity. She left her husband £6000 in English funds.

On 3 May 1796 Macquarie was promoted brevet major, and next year he added by purchase the office of deputy paymaster general of the King's troops in the Bombay presidency. That year he was in the expedition against the Pyché Rajah and in 1799, shortly after the engagement at Sedasere he was at the battle of Seringapatam, during which Tippoo was killed; this brought him £1300 in prize money. In April 1800 Governor Duncan of Bombay appointed him his confidential military secretary, though Macquarie generously stipulated that the emoluments of the office should continue to be paid to the previous occupant, a friend who was married and had small means.

On 18 September 1800 when he took office as president of the Sans Souci Club in Bombay he finally abandoned the black arm-band he had worn since his wife's death. Six months later General Baird asked Macquarie to accompany him as deputy adjutant general of the army of six thousand men he was taking to Egypt to help General Abercromby in expelling the French. Macquarie sailed for the Red Sea on 6 April 1801 and in Cairo learnt that Charles, now a captain in the Black Watch, had been seriously wounded at Aboukir. Their reunion took place at Alexandria in September 1801 and filled several ardent pages of his diary.

When the bulk of the British army left Egypt Macquarie became deputy adjutant general of all the remaining forces. As early as July 1801 he had word that he had been appointed at home to an effective majority of the 86th Regiment as from 15 January 1801, and on returning to Bombay in July 1802 he assumed command but was granted leave that year on the ground that he had urgent business at home. This was scarcely an exaggeration, for while in Egypt he had learnt that he had become a landowner in Mull.

Macquarie had for several years set his heart on acquiring part of the Lochbuy estate which his uncle was being forced by his creditors to sell. He told his uncle that he was willing to submit to any terms, but asked him to delay the sale until 1803, by which time he expected to be back in Britain and able to cash his fortune. Lochbuy, unable to wait, had bought 10,000 acres (4047 ha) for Macquarie, and Macquarie's Bombay agents had provided security for the purchase money of £10,060. The Egyptian campaign had been so profitable that raising such a sum presented no difficulty; at the beginning of 1803 he estimated that he was worth £20,000 in money and land, twice the amount of his wealth only two years before. Understandably Macquarie was anxious to take possession of his estate. His principal motive in acquiring it, he assured his sister-in-law, Mrs Morley, was to perpetuate the memory of his late wife by naming it after her ('You will say—my beloved Sister—that I am romantick?—Be it so!') He was clearly also attracted to the idea of becoming a Highland laird and, indeed, for all his mourning, of having an estate to leave his heir. It was also perfectly natural that he should be homesick, especially as his uncle, now ailing, begged him to return.

He left Bombay on 6 January 1803 in the company ship Sir Edward Hughes after a farewell dinner presented by the governor. The ship sailed by the Cape and St Helena, and on 7 May Macquarie landed at Brighton, where he sat down at the Castle Inn to 'the most excellent comfortable English Dinner for the first time these 15 Years!' A week later war with France broke out again and in July the Duke of York, as commander-in-chief, appointed him assistant adjutant general of the London district. Macquarie's rank was now lieutenant-colonel on the staff, the promotion being dated back to 7 November 1801.

These were strenuous days for him not only militarily but socially, for the 'awkward, rusticated, Jungle-Wallah', as he jocularly described himself, moved in the highest society. He was presented to the king ten days after his arrival and to the queen and all the princesses the following week, 'a grand and most pleasing Splendid Sight of the finest Women in all the World'. Equally flatteringly, Lord Castlereagh consulted him about Indian affairs.

Clearly Macquarie felt himself in his element despite the expense. This is the Macquarie of Opie's fine portrait in the Dixson Gallery, Sydney, the handsome, spruce young veteran of 41. In these circumstances he found it easier than might have been expected to reconcile himself to postponing his trip north and it was not until June 1804 that he was able to get away. His uncle was on his deathbed so the reunion was short. Macquarie had the melancholy task of breaking the news of Lochbuy's death to his mother at their first meeting since 1787. There was tragic irony here as elsewhere in his life. While at home Macquarie carried out his resolution to consecrate his new estate to his late wife under the name of Jarvisfield. He also met there, and admired immensely, an amiable and accomplished kinswoman Elizabeth, a Campbell of Airds, whom he was in due course to marry.

Macquarie's return to India could not be long delayed. He may have helped to precipitate this event by his foolish and unsuccessful attempt to deceive the Duke of York about the age and whereabouts of two young relatives, the subjects of an anonymous letter which the duke had received from Mull. Though Macquarie protested that he had misrepresented nothing, he was lucky to avoid the ruin and disgrace which he himself feared would be the result of his 'bold fiction'; however, his application for a transfer to the guards was rejected out of hand and he was ordered back to India.

Macquarie left Portsmouth in the City of London on 24 April 1805, his heart lightened by the knowledge that Elizabeth had agreed to wait for him. His second tour of duty was comparatively brief. At Bombay in October he learnt that the Duke of York had promoted him to the lieutenant-colonelcy of the 73rd Regiment which had already returned home. After serving in the north with his old regiment against Holkar Macquarie left India for the last time on 19 March 1807. This time he decided to take the overland route carrying dispatches. Taking ship to the Persian Gulf, where he narrowly escaped drowning, he and his companions went to the British factory at Basra; learning there that Turkey, at war with Russia, had broken off diplomatic relations with Britain, he decided to travel via St Petersburg. He picked up dispatches from the shah of Persia at Baghdad on the way, reached London on 17 October 1807, and was eventually rewarded with £750 by the government.

Seventeen days later he married Elizabeth Campbell in the little parish church of Holsworthy in Devon, and took her to Perth where his new regiment was garrisoned. By their first wedding anniversary they were also celebrating, with all the enthusiasm of belated parenthood, the arrival of a daughter, christened Jane Jarvis, but her death on 5 December 1808 threw a cloud over their lives which long lingered.

Dramatic distraction from grief was provided by the decision of the government at the end of 1808 to send Major-General Miles Nightingall and the 73rd Regiment to New South Wales to replace the deposed governor, William Bligh, and the mutinous New South Wales Corps. Macquarie was to accompany his regiment, but the prospect of going abroad again so soon did not please him, especially as he reckoned that he was already the oldest lieutenant-colonel in the army and feared that the colony would be too remote to assist his further promotion. He therefore wrote at the end of March to General Sir David Dundas, the new commander-in-chief, reminding him of his thirty-two years service in the army and asking for promotion to colonel in the colony. More important, he applied to Castlereagh, secretary of state for the colonies, for the post of lieutenant-governor, and this appointment he received with the support of the Duke of York and Sir Arthur Wellesley, the future Duke of Wellington. When he heard that Nightingall had changed his mind about accepting the governorship, Macquarie boldly wrote to Castlereagh again, offering his services as governor. At first this ploy appeared to have failed and on 26 April he duly attended a royal levée to pay his duty as lieutenant-governor; but the next day in Berkeley Square he met Castlereagh who told him he was to go as governor.

As the government was anxious about the situation in New South Wales the preparations for departure were hurried, but with characteristic canniness Macquarie wrote an effusive thank-you to Castlereagh ('Great men like these attentions—and they never do any harm') and a respectful letter to Sir Joseph Banks, the colony's original patron, discreetly reminding him of hospitality the clan Macquarie had given him many years before. Banks was not well enough to see Macquarie but was favourably disposed. Macquarie also consulted T. W. Plummer, a lawyer, about the improvements desirable in the colonial government. A week before departure he received confidential Instructions in which Castlereagh emphasized that 'The Great Objects of attention are to improve the Morals of the Colonists, to encourage Marriage, to provide for Education, to prohibit the Use of Spirituous Liquors, to increase the Agriculture and Stock, so as to ensure the Certainty of a full supply to the Inhabitants under all Circumstances'. Macquarie's policy in the colony can only be understood in the light of this exhortation.

On 22 May 1809 Macquarie and his wife sailed with the regiment from Portsmouth in the storeship Dromedary escorted by H.M.S. Hindostan. During the seven-month voyage both of them kept a diary, his terse, hers lively. Also on board were Ellis Bent, the newly-appointed deputy judge advocate, and his family. Thus the last of the autocratic, and non-constitutional, governors came to Australia with the first properly trained law officer.

At Rio de Janeiro Macquarie learned that Lieutenant-Colonel George Johnston and John Macarthur, leaders in the deposition of Bligh, had just passed through on their way to England. This relieved him of the disagreeable duty of having to deal with them in the colony. Then after a light-hearted sojourn at Cape Town Macquarie and his party proceeded to New South Wales and entered Port Jackson on 28 December 1809. Macquarie was sworn in on New Year's Day 1810. Addressing the citizens at the ceremony he expressed the hope that the recent dissensions would now give way to a more becoming harmony among all classes. Officers displaced since Bligh's arrest were reinstated and all other acts of the 'revolutionary' government annulled. After Bligh arrived in Sydney on 17 January it required all the tact that Macquarie could muster to keep his relations with his predecessor more or less amicable until Bligh finally sailed for home on 12 May with Colonel William Paterson and the New South Wales Corps. With the past out of the way Macquarie could devote his undivided attention to the present, and the future. Privately he had been pleasantly surprised to find the colony thriving and 'in a perfect state of tranquillity'. He was also pleased with the setting and the climate and hoped 'we shall be able to pass five or six years here pleasantly enough'.

The first year certainly passed pleasantly. By the time Macquarie was being congratulated on the first anniversary of his government the characteristics of his twelve-year administration had emerged. One was the new modelling of the public departments, including the commissariat, and the organization of the Police Fund as the basis of colonial revenue. Here he was able to draw on his experience as a staff officer, expertise the naval governors had largely lacked. Like his predecessors he levied customs duties without authority, and these had to be retrospectively confirmed by an Act passed in 1819. He opened a new market-place in Sydney in October 1810 and in March 1813 the first public fair held 'by regular authority' took place at Parramatta. In July 1813 the colony at last obtained a coinage in place of the notes of hand and barter previously used. At the end of 1816, despite the opposition of the British government, he encouraged the creation of the colony's first bank. But the most urgent problem, and an intractable one, was to increase agricultural production and livestock. Despite his efforts to encourage farmers to improve their properties alternate spectres of glut and famine continued to threaten the economy during most of his administration.

Macquarie embarked on his first tour of the outlying districts on 6 November 1810 and three days later was lost in the bush for several hours in the Bankstown district. He named Windsor and Richmond on this trip and paid some discreet compliments in calling new towns he marked out Liverpool, Castlereagh, Pitt-town and Wilberforce. This was the first of a series of tours including two visits to Van Diemen's Land in 1811 and 1821, three to Newcastle, one to Port Macquarie, which he founded in 1821, and one to the Illawarra in 1822. After the Blue Mountains had been crossed Macquarie set off on the new road across the range and selected the site of Bathurst on 7 May 1815. He encouraged so much exploration that by the time he left the colony the explored area was many times what it had been when he arrived.

Public works were another continuing concern. Despite Castlereagh's injunction about economy Macquarie was convinced that a new army barracks, a new general hospital, and a turnpike road to Parramatta and beyond could not be postponed. The barracks were completed by the end of 1810, the Parramatta road in April 1811. The hospital was built by D'Arcy Wentworth, the principal surgeon, and two other colonists by a contract dated 6 November 1810, giving them a limited monopoly of importing spirits, the consumption of which Macquarie had found it impossible to prohibit. This was clearly a cheap way of obtaining an urgently needed building, and at a time when convict labour was very scarce it probably did not seem an altogether eccentric device to an old Indian officer; but it ran contrary to his own suggestion earlier that spirits should be freely imported, and it was strongly criticized in London. These undertakings were the first in an expensive building programme which transformed and still adorns Sydney, Parramatta and the new townships. In this he had the assistance of Francis Greenway a convict whom he appointed civil architect. In 1822 Macquarie listed 265 works of varying scale which had been carried out during his rule.

All these projects were accomplished with the help of convict labour, which became embarrassingly plentiful as time went on. In 1819-21 the governor was unable to assign more than half the new arrivals, and had to recommence at Emu Plains the government farming operations which he had thankfully abandoned in 1811. For all that he reduced the average annual expenditure per convict by about two-thirds during his administration, even though the total doubled as the number of prisoners increased about tenfold. At the same time he tried to restrain the excessive use of corporal punishment by magistrates, tightened up the pass regulations, built barracks in Sydney, Parramatta and Windsor for the better control of the 'government' convicts and issued new regulations for the granting of tickets-of-leave.

Central to Macquarie's administration was his concern for public morality. In some of his earliest orders the prevailing habit of cohabiting without marriage was denounced, constables were directed to enforce laws against Sabbath-breaking, and a regular church parade was introduced for convicts in government employment. Already in October 1810 he claimed that 'a very apparent' change for the better had taken place in the 'Religious Tendency and Morals' of the inhabitants. Certainly church-going and the marriage rate increased. Closely connected with all this was his energetic establishment of schools in Sydney and elsewhere, his licensing regulations which reduced the number of public houses in Sydney alone from 75 to 20, and his seizure of clandestine stills. In 1811 he reorganized the Sydney police, appointing D'Arcy Wentworth superintendent.

As the strongest inducement to reform Macquarie decided that ex-convicts, when they had shown that they deserved the favour, should be readmitted to the rank in society they had forfeited. This was a new line of conduct, he recognized, though he believed it to be 'the benign Spirit of the Original Establishment of the Colony, and His Majesty's Paternal Instructions as to the mode of its Government'. Macquarie was clearly conscious of following the colony's founder, Admiral Arthur Phillip, whom he admired and corresponded with. A conscientious Freemason he was probably also influenced by his admiration of Wilberforce 'a true Patriot and the Real Friend of Mankind' and, perhaps above all, by his wife. Accordingly he made two emancipists magistrates in 1810 and invited them and others to his table.

This policy was approved by Liverpool as well as by Wilberforce and the select committee on transportation in 1812, but it aroused immediate indignation among immigrant settlers and military officers and alienated the very classes whose co-operation Castlereagh had advised him to foster. Early in 1810 the senior chaplain, Samuel Marsden, refused outright to serve with the emancipist justices, Simeon Lord and Andrew Thompson, on the turnpike board for the new Parramatta Road. In 1811 Macquarie flatteringly named a street in Parramatta after Marsden, but despite Wilberforce's attempts to mediate there was further controversy between them in 1814, and finally in January 1818 Marsden was summoned to Government House and denounced as a 'secret enemy'. Since the chaplain probably had more influential friends in England than any other colonist he proved a dangerous antagonist. So did Jeffery Hart Bent, judge of the Supreme Court created under the new Charter of Justice granted in 1814. He kept his court closed rather than admit ex-convict attorneys to practise even though there was only one free lawyer in the colony. The governor's growing rift with both Bent brothers led to their recall. Ellis Bent died before this decision arrived, but his brother returned to England and assisted H. G. Bennet in mounting the campaign against Macquarie in the House of Commons which led to the appointment of a select committee on gaols and of John Thomas Bigge as commissioner to enquire into the affairs of the colony. Macquarie's emancipist policy also led to his falling out with his old friend of Indian days, Colonel George Molle, who arrived with the 46th Regiment early in 1814 as lieutenant-governor. Macquarie's preference for ex-convict settlers was an extension of this policy, and by 1818 he went so far as to suggest the cessation for three years of all immigration apart from 'respectable Monied Men'. He had found many of the free immigrants unsatisfactory settlers and disapproved of their reluctance to fraternize with ex-convicts.

Macquarie's policy concerning the Aboriginals was an expression of the same humanitarian conscience. He organized the Native Institution (a school for Aboriginal children), a village at Elizabeth Bay for the Sydney tribe, an Aboriginal farm at George's Head and a sort of annual durbar for them at Parramatta. Orders of merit and even an old general's uniform were bestowed on deserving chiefs. The results of this naive policy were not very encouraging and in 1816, when the natives showed signs of ungrateful hostility, he organized a military drive to chasten them. But no other governor since Phillip had shown them so much sympathy.

More conventional piety was evident in his establishment of a male orphanage and other charitable institutions, and in his support of the Benevolent Society, the Bible Society and the Savings Bank. Yet Macquarie was no Puritan, witness his appointment of a convict, Michael Robinson, as poet laureate, his patronage of the first horse-races in Hyde Park, and his tolerance of Lieutenant-Governor William Sorell and other officials who were discreetly living in sin. Happily married himself there was in practice an easygoingness in Macquarie's attitude to private, as distinct from public, morality, which belonged more to the eighteenth than the nineteenth century.

In July 1811 Macquarie received official notification of his promotion to the rank of colonel a year before. On 25 November 1811 he was promoted brigadier-general, though he only heard about it eleven months later. In October 1813 he learnt that he had been a major-general since 4 June, but he seemed just as delighted to hear that his brother had at last married, and to an Edinburgh heiress at that. Macquarie had repeatedly urged him to come out to New South Wales, and concocted plans for his becoming collector of customs, lieutenant-governor, and even Macquarie's successor, but nothing came of them. Charles's son, the 'Hero Hector', and their young cousin, John Maclaine, the subjects of the 1803 episode, were both on Macquarie's staff in the colony; he was always ready to help his kin.

Undoubtedly the high moment of Macquarie's stay in the colony and perhaps of his life, was the birth on 28 March 1814, following six miscarriages, of his son whom he gently allowed Elizabeth to name Lachlan after him. Their happiness on earth, he noted in his memorandum book, was now complete. For the last decade of his life Macquarie found a happy refuge from his worries in the role of doting father.

These worries accumulated during the second half of his reign. Castlereagh had told him before he left London that he would be given a pension if he stayed eight years as governor, and on 1 December 1817, within a month of that period, Macquarie tendered his resignation. This followed Bathurst's criticism of Macquarie's handling of the incident in which the American schooner Traveller had been seized without his authority. The governor considered the reprimand unjustified and its tone very insulting. Bathurst wrote a mollifying reply declining to accept the resignation until he heard further from Macquarie, but this dispatch went astray and was never received by the governor. Instead, though he reminded Bathurst of his resignation, he was informed of the appointment of Bigge, learning this only five days before the commissioner arrived on 26 September 1819.

Macquarie seems to have been genuinely pleased, in view of the parliamentary criticism, at the inquiry since 'his report must be favourable to my administration of the Colony and highly honourable to my character'. But Macquarie and Bigge soon fell out over his 'absurd' public works policy and his appointment of the emancipist, Dr William Redfern, as a magistrate. This quarrel was patched up but another developed when Macquarie, who had been seriously ill, addressed his own questionnaire concerning his administration to all the magistrates in the colony. This contretemps in turn was settled in July 1820 on the emotional occasion of the solemn procession following news of the death of George III and after Macquarie had promised not to use the questionnaire while Bigge was in the colony. Ironically, the magistrates' replies were by no means wholly favourable to the governor. Meanwhile Macquarie had privately sent home a vigorous defence against Bennet's latest attack, which was published in 1821 as A Letter to Viscount Sidmouth.

At the end of 1820 Macquarie learnt with relief that his third application to resign had been accepted, but it was not until 12 February 1822, three months after his successor arrived, that he and his family embarked in the Surry with an arkful of Australian wild life for friends and patrons at home, cheered by a 'Harbour full of People'. They sailed three days later and arrived at Deptford on 5 July. The first part of Bigge's report had already been tabled in the House of Commons, so Macquarie lost no time in seeing Bathurst and submitting a detailed report of his administration. He had the satisfaction of receiving from Bathurst his assurance of the king's appreciation of his assiduity and integrity; he was 'most graciously received' on 5 August when presented to the monarch by Castlereagh. The same day Bigge's first volume was tabled in the Lords. Apparently it now began to circulate publicly, but with remarkable restraint Macquarie forbore to comment until the rest appeared. John Macarthur junior reported that 'the Governor bends his head to the storm like a true Scotchman, and calls on Mr. Bigge as if he was quite contented and at ease'. Unable to stand London, Macquarie went home to Scotland, and at the end of November, worried about his wife's health, he took her and Lachlan, with servants and a tutor, on a grand tour through France, Italy and Switzerland, spending two months at Hyères near Toulon. While abroad he received copies of Bigge's second and third volumes, for on the way back he stopped for twelve days at Fontainebleau to answer this 'false, vindictive and malicious Report'.

In London on 31 July 1823 he began a desperate attempt to salvage his reputation and to secure his pension, but on neither issue was he able to obtain satisfaction from the government, and the sudden death of Castlereagh deprived him of a most influential patron. He had been defended by John Bull when Bigge's first volume was published, but Sydney Smith in the Edinburgh Review was so scathing that Macquarie even contemplated suing that journal for libel. In October he presented Bathurst with a 43-page commentary, but not until 1828 could his friends persuade the government to publish part of it as a parliamentary paper. Meanwhile the Treasury added to his worries, belatedly pestering him about the absence of receipts for £10,000 worth of dollars imported into the colony from India in 1812 and holding him answerable for this money.

Exhausted and sick at heart Macquarie sailed with his family for Mull in November, too poor now to travel by coach. In 1817 Charles had bought on his behalf part of the Duke of Argyll's property on Mull. This had cost £22,000, all of Macquarie's fortune, and Elizabeth described the purchase as 'ruinous'. So it proved. Far from saving money Macquarie had been obliged to supplement his net salary (£1800) as governor from his own pocket, and he was now £500 in debt to his bankers. His earlier hopes of building a castle, a mansion or even a cottage on his estate had faded, and for a country seat they had to make do with the damp, draughty dwelling already there. Not only was it impossible to collect rent from the tenants but the land was virtually unsaleable.

In these circumstances obtaining the promised pension became urgent. So on 15 April 1824, accompanied by his faithful Indian manservant, formerly his slave boy, Macquarie set out to London and arrived on 24 April after a gruelling passage by steam-boat. Five days later he obtained an interview with Bathurst who confirmed that he would be paid a pension of £1000, twice as much as he had expected. He also received a letter in which Bathurst spoke reassuringly of Macquarie's 'able and successful administration', words which delighted the old man, though he complained to Elizabeth that he could not publish them, 'whereas this vile insidious Bigge Report is everywhere in the hands of everyone'.

The final irony was that Macquarie did not live to enjoy his pension. On 25 May he learnt that his application for a title had been rejected. On 11 June, having said a leisurely farewell to the king, the Duke of York, Bathurst and others, preparatory to returning to Scotland, he woke feeling ill. He suffered much pain from his old bowel complaint and from strangury, and on 1 July died in his London lodgings. Elizabeth, who had hurried down from Mull, described the moment of his dignified death as 'the most sublime in my life'. Macquarie would have been pleased with the crowd of relations, friends and colleagues, including the Duke of Argyll, the earl of Breadalbane and several generals who escorted his coffin up Regent Street and Portland Place, followed by forty coaches including those of the Duke of Wellington, Bathurst and the earl of Harrington. His body was taken by boat to Mull and buried on his estate. The family tomb is now administered by the National Trust of Australia.

One of Macquarie's last errands in London had been to select 'a superb Vase' with the £500 the colonists of New South Wales had subscribed as a farewell gift. When news of his death reached Sydney at the end of October the Sydney Gazette and the Australian both carried fulsome tributes, elegiac verses were penned, and one colonist described him as 'the Howard or the Jonas Hanway of the Colony'. On 14 November, after a solemn procession, Rev. William Cowper, an old friend, preached a sermon taking as his text the last verse of the 22nd chapter of Proverbs: 'Seest thou a man diligent in his business? he shall stand before kings; he shall not stand before mean men'. About £500 was quickly promised for a monument, but this plan was abandoned after a correspondent in the Gazette drily suggested that there were already memorials enough to this 'Grand Napoleon of these Australian Realms'. But the seed of the Macquarie legend, 'prince of men', had already been sown and was to prove the most enduring memorial of all:

Early and late,—by day, by night,
To serve mankind was his delight:
Kind Ruler, Husband, Father, Friend,—
What more can human nature blend?

In a will written in Sydney in 1815 Macquarie had settled the estate of Jarvisfield on his son, though providing an annuity of £300 out of it for his widow. His personal property was then valued at £22,000, but by 1824 this was probably largely illusory in view of the land market. Since Lachlan junior died childless Macquarie's fond ambition of establishing a line of lairds of Jarvisfield came to nothing.

Macquarie was a brisk and indefatigable writer of letters, diaries and memoranda, and the personality which emerges from these intimate sources is irresistibly attractive. Yet, though Macquarie was genial, generous and trusting, he was not really a simple man. For all his innocence and self-righteousness he was capable of deception and probably self-deception, and of considerable cunning in his strenuous pursuit of promotion, though by the standards of his contemporaries he probably had more integrity than most. His achievements in New South Wales during a longer administration than any other governor defy disparagement, and his prediction that 'my name will not readily be forgotten after I have left it' has been richly fulfilled. Perhaps his most important accomplishment was to rescue dignity and respect for the vice-regal office after the sordid proceedings with Bligh.

But his failings were also palpable. In 1801 the future Duke of Wellington called him 'an excellent man', but added that he had bad health and 'I think wants that decision in difficult cases which is the life of everything although he has habits of business'. In New South Wales he certainly mismanaged some cases; his rashly ordering three men to be flogged for trespassing in the government domain in 1816 was the most notorious instance. He himself wrote privately in 1810 that his talents and judgment were inadequate to the task of improving the colony 'or to that degree that the present backward State of everything would admit of'. Towards the end of his administration, as both health and temper failed, he became increasingly intolerant of criticism, including that of Bathurst and Bigge.

The fundamental issue between Macquarie and Bigge lay in their conception of the raison d'être of the colony. Macquarie always viewed it as 'a Penitentiary or Asylum on a Grand Scale' though he conceded that it 'must one day or other be one of the greatest and most flourishing Colonies belonging to the British Empire'. Bigge, more closely in touch with opinion in London and influenced by the ideas of John Macarthur, saw clearly its potentialities for free settlement and wool. Despite the governor's passionate plea Bigge's astute but conventional lawyer's mind was not impressed by the aim or the achievements of Macquarie's emancipist policy. That is hardly surprising; here Macquarie was ahead of his time, and indeed ahead of our own, and one can still wonder that an Indian army veteran, pillar of the established Church and an orthodox Tory in politics, ever came to father this extraordinary experiment. Certainly no other governor was so popular with both emancipist and convict: Andrew Thompson, when he died in 1810, even left him a quarter of his estate. But he was unlucky to govern at a time when the authority of the governor still had no sound constitutional basis, when the pressure for economy was so strong, and when British policy was undergoing reappraisal.

Of Macquarie's personal characteristics it is worth emphasizing that he was far from humourless—a rather high-spirited and unvicious humour, witness his nick-naming his 'Royal Highland Camel' in Egypt 'the Laird of Kilbuckie'. Wherever he went he had an appreciative, if unoriginal, eye for 'romantick' landscape and historic places, and whether in London, St Petersburg, or Rio de Janeiro, enjoyed an evening at the theatre. Above all he was a man of strong family affections and, blessed in the person of both his wives, he proved a devoted husband and father, even agreeing to have the family's favourite old cow shipped all the way from Sydney to Mull.

Select Bibliography

  • L. Macquarie, Journals of His Tours in New South Wales and Van Diemen's Land, 1810-1822 (Syd, 1956)
  • M. H. Ellis, Lachlan Macquarie: His Life, Adventures and Times (Syd, 1965)
  • Macquarie papers (State Library of New South Wales)
  • Jarvis Collection (Lincolnshire County Archives)
  • Lochbuie papers (Register House, Edinburgh)
  • manuscript catalogue under Macquarie (State Library of New South Wales and National Library of Australia).

Additional Resources

Citation details

N. D. McLachlan, 'Macquarie, Lachlan (1762–1824)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1967, accessed online 15 July 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 2, (Melbourne University Press), 1967

View the front pages for Volume 2

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Lachlan Macquarie, c1819

Lachlan Macquarie, c1819

State Library of New South Wales, MIN 236

Life Summary [details]


31 January, 1762
Ulva, Argyll, Scotland


1 July, 1824 (aged 62)
London, Middlesex, England

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